Fish can be extremely strange looking creatures, with odd appendages and body shapes unfamiliar to us land animals. Their peculiarities aren’t limited to their outer appearance, either — as these ghostly, almost alien-looking X-rays of various underwater creatures prove. This unnerving looking eel, for example, could be something straight out of a horror movie.
Although not dangerous to humans, the viper moray eel nevertheless occupies a place in our imaginations reserved for scary creatures. Perhaps this is because of those razor-sharp teeth, visible in this X-ray even when the eel’s mouth is closed. It may also be their lethal hunting technique, waiting motionless in nooks and crannies to dart out and snatch their unsuspecting prey. Or it may even be their impressive length — up to 1.5 meters (5 feet) or more! Whatever it is, this spooky X-ray image sure doesn’t make them seem any less creepy…
This odd specimen — with its needle-like teeth and bloated belly — is the mysterious Bulbous Deep Sea Angler. Only three examples of this fish have ever been found and examined. Like all anglerfish, the Bulbous Deep Sea Angler has a ‘lure’ on the top of its head, which is probably bioluminescent, and which it uses to attract other fish to its sharp teeth. Like the Pelican Eel, this demon of the deep is also able to distend its jaw to swallow prey up to twice its own size.
Seen normally, the Lookdown’s color ranges from a bluish-silver to gold, making it an attractive fish that’s popular with aquarium owners. Seen in X-ray, with its delicate bone structure and fins, it is perhaps even more beautiful. How appropriate, then, that the face of this fish sports the rather haughty expression that gave it its name!
It’s a wonder this shark can move at all with that large hammer (or ‘cephalofoil’) on its head. The Winghead Shark is another creature that may look creepy but is actually harmless to humans. Humans, on the other hand, dine on these sharks quite regularly. Despite their presence in (mainly Asian) fisheries, not much is known about this species, or even its numbers, but a decline in their population due to fishing is certainly a concern.
As you’ve probably already guessed, the Rosy Dory is a reddish-colored fish — and a freaky-looking one at that! It has a large mouth and eyes (as this X-ray clearly shows), but you can also see the closely spaced bones of its compact body. A carnivore, the Rosy Dory catches its prey with its extendable mouth — making it not so comical looking to its victims. We can’t help laughing though… from this picture, its skull does remind us quite a lot of Darth Vader!
This grotesque-looking deep-sea predator is rarely seen by man, as it lives in waters between 500 and 3,000 meters deep (165 and 9,840 feet). The Pelican Eel (which isn’t actually an eel at all) is also known as the Umbrellamouth Gulper, and for good reason. This terrifying-seeming creature uses its monstrous maw as a scoop to capture unfortunate fish. Its jaws can expand to engulf even large fish, and if it bites off more than it can chew, well, that’s no problem either — as it’s got a pretty elastic stomach too.
The first thing that stands out about this strange fish is the long thin snout that it uses to suck up its food — which consists mainly of zooplankton. Also visible in this X-ray is the extra-long spine on its dorsal fin, ending in a protrusion that looks a little like the blade of a knife. What we can’t appreciate from looking at this picture is the Orange Bellowsfish’s upside down way of swimming, common to the Centriscidae family. So far, scientists have not determined the reason for this odd way of traveling.
Here’s another strange and mysterious fish from the deep sea, the Unicorn Crestfish. The name is derived from the odd-looking bone that extends forward from the fish’s head. A very rare fish, the Unicorn Crestfish (or Unicornfish) also has the ability to squirt ink from its long, eel-like body when evading its enemies, much in the same way squids, cuttlefish and octopuses do.
For about 40 million years these frightening fish have been lurking in deep, dark and cold waters, moving upwards only at night to prey on smaller fish and shrimp. Tropical Hatchetfish, as they are known, are tricksy creatures, generating their own light to disguise their silhouettes from anything swimming below. Definitely not something you’d want to encounter if you were a small ocean-dwelling organism!
This X-ray looks as though it might be of some strange alien parasite with nasty looking talons on either side of its body. Those ‘talons’ are actually the bones of the Short Dragonfish’s fins, which (when spread out) do indeed resemble the wings of a dragon. The Short Dragonfish is believed to be monogamous, an unusual characteristic for a fish. Unfortunately for them, they are also prized in traditional Chinese Medicine. This may be leading to a depleted population, although it is hard to confirm due to a lack of data on their numbers.
The vivid yellow color of the Longnose Butterflyfish can’t be seen in this X-ray, but we do have an excellent view of its long snout. This snout is actually a deadly tool for catching prey. The Butterflyfish uses it both to suck up small organisms (such as crab larvae and amphipods) and to hold and break apart larger ones. It’s believed that the extended mouth of the Butterflyfish also allows it to creep up on its prey, getting close enough to gobble up its quarry before the hapless victim even notices it is being pursued. Sneaky!
Also called a ‘living fossil’, the Coelacanth was (until quite recently) believed to be extinct. It’s not surprising that they’ve managed to remain hidden all this time, as they spend most of the day resting in caves, coming out only at night to hunt, when they may travel several kilometers before returning home. Some scientists speculate that the Coelacanth is a cousin of our fishy ancestors, which went on to evolve into land animals. This is still a matter of some debate, though; there’s still a lot to learn about this ancient fish!
The dangerous looking protrusion from this fish’s head renders it immediately recognizable as a Sawfish. A formidable predator, the Sawfish (this one is a Smalltooth Sawfish) uses this inbuilt weapon to slash and kill its prey, such as fish, which it then swallows intact. In this X-ray, taken from above, the Sawfish seems to have a frowny face, which is fitting considering its status on the critically endangered list.
If you look very carefully at the Wedgetail Triggerfish’s mouth you can just make out its strong incisors, which it uses to break off its prey — usually coral or encrusting organisms such as barnacles and algae. You can also make out the dorsal and pelvic spines that it uses to fend off other predators — by jamming itself into a crevice and pointing the spines towards them. Once the Triggerfish has dug itself in this way, it’s just about impossible to dislodge.
The Bothid Flatfish is another big-mouthed deep-ocean fish. Like other members of the flounder family, this fish has both eyes on the same side of its head. Still, this odd characteristic serves an important function, as it allows the Flatfish to lie concealed on the ocean floor while it scans the water above it for prey. This makes the Bothid Flatfish pretty ugly, but a successful predator — so we doubt it cares about its lack of good looks!
If this collection of X-rays has shown us anything, it is that nature is an amazing designer, adapting to a myriad of environments and hunting styles. Who knew fish bones could be a source of such beauty — even if that beauty is sometimes a bit on the spooky side!